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Rotterdam Town Board to discuss solar power zoning law

Rotterdam Town Board to discuss solar power zoning law

There will be a public hearing on adopting the town's first zoning law for solar energy.
Rotterdam Town Board to discuss solar power zoning law
The town has allowed solar panel installation on a case-by-case basis.

Thoughts will turn toward the sun and its power as the Rotterdam Town Board convenes for its annual organizational meeting on New Year's Day.

In addition to routine organizational business, the board will hold a public hearing on adopting the town's first zoning law dealing with rooftop solar panels and other solar energy technologies.

The town wants to make it easier for people to pursue solar projects, said Town Supervisor Steven Tommasone. It doesn't have any specific rules on solar now.

"We'll have the hearing on the First and probably take action on Jan. 18," Tommasone said. "That will give us time to see what kind of modifications, if any, are needed."

The board decided to hold the hearing at its organizational meeting for efficiency, he said, because he expects the town to be dealing with a number of issues in 2017. The meeting will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 1, at the Town Hall. 

The Rotterdam Steering Committee, which was formed earlier this year to review the town's land use laws, recommended adopting the law. The committee said the current town code doesn't adequately address solar energy facilities, despite their growing popularity.

John Tingley, an attorney who is chairman of the Steering Committee, will make a presentation at the hearing.

The use of solar panels has become much more common in recent years across the country, as prices have dropped and solar installation companies offer energy discount deals.

A solar law "will make it clearer and easier for people to understand that it's permissible in Rotterdam," Tommasone said. 

The town has been allowing solar panels to be installed as an "accessory use" on a case-by-case basis, but the committee found that more nuanced regulation is needed.

The town zoning  code doesn't currently allow for "solar farms," or large commercial solar facilities intended to produce energy for the electrical grid.

The proposed law would allow them, with a town Planning Board review, in industrial, light industrial and agricultural zones.

"We have had people who have come to us and said they want a solar farm. We don't have it in our code," Tommasone said.

The proposed law would also include provisions for the town to generate revenue through payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements with commercial solar facilities.

Currently, state law allows for up to a 15-year property tax exemption for solar facilities approved by the state Energy Research and Development Authority, but the law also allows communities to collect money under PILOT agreements with those facilities.

The hearing will be on a Sunday afternoon. Tommasone said it is the town's custom to hold its annual organizational meeting on New Year's Day, regardless of the day of the week it falls. The board then decided to hold the hearing as well.

"I think the quicker we can get our codes updates, the quicker we can move forward," Tommasone said.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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